Terri Warren, author of The Good News About The Bad News: Herpes: Everything You Need to Know, told Vice that the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STIs) is higher in pregnant women thanks to their compromised immune system.
“The biggest risk is when a woman contracts herpes in the third trimester,” she told Vice. “If you get herpes in your third trimester, there's a 50 percent chance your baby will get it at delivery.”
Peter Leone, professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina's School of Medicine, told Vice that genital herpes is often passed on through oral sex. It can even be contracted if the father has a cold sore (also known as Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1) on his mouth and performs cunnilingus.
Dr Magdalena Simonis told Women’s Health that oral sex isn’t the problem, it’s who you’re having oral sex with.
“If you have never before had a cold sore and your partner gets oral cold sores and you’re not sure if you have immunity and your partner has oral sex with you and they are shedding the virus sub-clinically, which might not be obvious, then you are at risk of contracting the virus around the genitals,” says Dr Magdalena Simonis, RACGP spokesperson.
She says that this first infection could cross the placenta wall putting your baby at high risk of congenital defects, premature birth and still birth.
Dr Lara Roeske, the Chair of the RACGP Sexual Health Medicine network, told Women's Health that GPs would advise that pregnant women in their third trimester with no known prior history of genital herpes to avoid oral and genital sex with a partner who is symptomatic with a recurrence or episode of genital or oro-labial herpes.
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"If a partner has a cold-sore, oral sex should be avoided in this situation. These approaches assist to prevent a new genital HSV (Herpes Simplex Virus) infection in pregnant women close to the time of delivery when there is a very small but real risk of neonatal transmission of HSV from the birth canal to the neonate which may have very serious consequences."
Babies with neonatal herpes can suffer from painful blisters on their eyes, mouth or skin, which can be treated quickly. However the condition can become life-threatening if it spreads to the baby's organs.
However, she says it is important to note that women who acquire genital herpes prior to falling pregnant have an extremely low risk of passing on the infection to their baby.